U.S. looks to jalapenos in Salmonella outbreak

WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - More than 1,000 people have been sickened in an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning and federal officials said on Wednesday they now suspected several causes, including jalapeno peppers.

Since April, 1,017 people in 41 states and Canada have been diagnosed with infections of Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"The accumulated data from all investigations indicate that jalapeno peppers caused some illnesses but that they do not explain all illnesses," the CDC said in a statement.

"Raw tomatoes, fresh serrano peppers, and fresh cilantro also remain under investigation."

The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration said warnings about eating tomatoes remained in place. They include raw red plum, red Roma, or red round tomatoes.

"Until health officials know that the contaminated product or products are no longer on the market, persons with increased risk of severe infection, including infants, elderly persons, and those with impaired immune systems, should not eat raw jalapeno peppers or raw serrano peppers," the CDC added.

The CDC said one 80-year-old Texas man had died in the outbreak and the death of a man in his 60s may have been associated with Salmonella Saintpaul.

"Only six persons infected with this strain of Salmonella Saintpaul were identified in the country during April through June of 2007," the CDC said.

"The previous rarity of this strain and the distribution of illnesses in all U.S. regions suggest that the implicated food is distributed throughout much of the country. Because many persons with Salmonella illness do not have a stool specimen tested, it is likely that many more illnesses have occurred than those reported."

The investigation has been challenging, the CDC said. "One difficult aspect is that people often have difficulty remembering exactly what foods they ate, and remembering specific ingredients in those foods is even more difficult," it said.

"Perishable foods that were consumed by ill persons are often not available to test. When food items are mixed together and consumed in the same dish, all the items may be statistically linked to illness."

Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. (Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Peter Cooney)